Olympia: the sneezing automaton, 24/25, Artspace Sydney, 2008.
Robotic platforms (micro-controllers, electronics, batteries, motors, wheels) wire crinoline frames,
dresses by Susan Marynowsky, computers, speakers, sound, gramophone horns.
The performance used sections of E.T.A Hoffman’s short The sand-man (1817) as a departure point. Specifically the sections which include Olympia, a female automaton. Olympia who is first presented publicly in a social dance convinces people that although cold and stiff, she is actually alive. The psychotic Nathaniel who dances with Olypmia falls in love with her, although she cannot speak a word, except to sneeze.
The sand-man is a key-feature in Freud’s essay The uncanny (1919). Since Freud’s association between the uncanny and the automaton, the uncanny has continued to be a key term in robotics. Namely the uncanny valley developed by Japanese robotic scientist Professor Masahiro Mori (1970). Mori also believed that robots have the Buddha nature in them.
In this absurdist investigation of the desire to create artificial life there were three dancing automatons, can you tell which one is alive? Or would you consider them all alive in some way. Would you like to dance with or consider falling in love with an automaton?